Like an ex popping up while the current squeeze is out of town, there are a few situations in life where your heart (or some other organ) is willing, but your brain cuts in to break up the party. And so it is - both thrilling and gut-wrenching in the same moment - when it comes to such deeply personal matters, like who to put your money on in international footy.
In the end, the pundits - at least the ones who've managed to take money off my hands - are faced with that one overriding question before the opening kickoff: "Do I want to feel happy about who wins, or do I want to make money off it?"
Well, today I tuned out the emotional attachment to my oranje-clad femme fatale that is the Dutch National Team, and went with the logical choice -- the Fraulein dressed in white, more a dominatrix than demure. The money came my way, as Germany did indeed dispense with the Netherlands 2-1, but in the process, I keep confronting the same question: "Why do I feel so crappy?"
There's a part of me that gets a shiver whenever I see the bold black KNVB emblazoned on an orange background. It triggers in my mind the pre-dawn aroma of cinnamon croissants from that hard-to-find Amsterdam bakery on the Singel, the taste of stroop-drenched pannekoeken to be had on the Prinsengracht, the cheeses of Alkmaar, rose gardens in Utrecht, and the golden sands of Zandvoort, which skirts the former F1 circuit that my wife insisted we had no time to visit.
I confess to being irresistibly attracted to the Netherlands, and the Dutch themselves: their open, helpful, and friendly demeanor, their impeccable command of English and multiple other languages, the most beautiful women in the world, as well as the 4-3-3 and the joys of totaalvoetbal.
The Dutch truly are the consummate example of the little nation that could - whether that meant establishing global domination of marine trade in the 17th century, holding off the North Sea since the dawn of time, or the enduring stamp that this tiny country has put on the soccer landscape throughout the history of the game.
Van Basten, Kruyff, Krol, Gullit, Bergkamp, Van Nistelrooy, Van der Sar from the past, and on to today the names ring out: Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder, and Kuyt. And while the Dutch obviously aren't everyone's faves, there's no denying that they do know how to produce soccer stars.
As this is slowly turning into a travelogue, let's return to Euro 2012 in Kharkov, Ukraine, the source of my tainted cash flow...
Seven minutes in, and Van Persie latches onto a lob over the top, volleys it in stride from the penalty spot - right at Manuel Neuer. It's a waste of a huge opportunity, and a portent of things to come. Just four minutes later, Arjen Robben makes a great run through the heart of the German defense. He feeds Van Persie to his right, but his one-timer attempt is pulled, missing the far post. The Dutch enjoy good possession in the opening 20 minutes, and it's shaping up as if this Group B encounter might well live up to the hype.
Germany gets their first quality chance, in the 24th, and capitalize thanks to Mario Gomez splitting a set of
pylons centerbacks, and taking a great incisive ball from Bastian Schweinsteiger. Germany out in front 1-0. Almost 15 minutes later, the duo combine once again, and Maarten Stekelenburg commits low and much too early. Germany 2, Netherlands 0. Stecklenburg atones for his earlier miscue in the final seconds of the first half, backpeddling hard to tip over a deflected shot that would have gone top corner to make it 3-0. As the halftime whistle sounds, I'm certain to collect on the wager. The look on the Dutch faces reaffirms this. The look on my face is nonetheless as dour as the Dutch.
At the 52-minute mark the Dutch keeper stops two attempts in quick succession to keep his side in it. Dutch strikers return the favour by missing four or five decent opportunities to get the ball past Neuer over the next 20 minutes. Finally, Van Persie scores to make it 2-1, and a little more interesting, but the Germans reassume control for the most part, and dominate possession in the closing minutes.
All the possession in the world is worth absolutely squat if you can't make use of it - either by exhausting the opponent, or punishing them by converting on your chances. While Germany posted a 75% shots on target rating, the Dutch were less than 50%. Add to this the many Dutch crosses from the flanks that came in too flat or too far, the disposessions in and around zone 14, and the sometimes woeful defending, and you've got a recipe for defeat.
The $20 I took off my buddy financed the post-match pints that I'd hoped would wash away the memories of today's result. I guess that's what happens when your heart and head do battle.